MPSA Member Interview: Emily Kalah Gade

Emily Kalah GadeEmily Kalah Gade is a PhD Candidate at the University of Washington at Seattle and has recently been awarded a Moore/Sloan Data Science and Washington Research Foundation Innovation in Data Science Postdoctoral Fellowship. She also competed at the 2012 Olympic Trials (rowing) in the lightweight double sculls and placed second in that same event at the 2013 US National Team Trials. Gade is also the two-time champion and current course record holder in the lightweight women’s single scull at Henley Women’s Regatta (UK). Here we ask her a few questions about her experience and perspective:

Congratulations on your Moore/Sloan and WRF Innovation in Data Science Postdoctoral Fellowship! What do you wish non-academics knew about civilians in conflict zones, political violence and nonviolent resistance?
Thanks! Well, given all the talk about terrorism in the context of the presidential election, I’d say this: it’s hard to conceive of a civilian experience in a conflict zone from most of the West, or to hold space in our daily lives to empathize with the darkness that mars certain human experiences. I think that makes it hard to understand the choices people make when they are soaked in the deep horror of those circumstances – including turning towards violence. Political violence or insurgency are often conflated with “terrorism”, effectively vilifying people who stand against a state. While denoted definitions of terrorism vary, the connotation of terrorism seems to be using violence against civilians for a loosely defined political aim, which in my view is never justified. Some people who stand against a state should be vilified, but others have legitimate grievances and few alternatives. In some cases, people using violence against a state are not the only ones committing grievous crimes, and indeed may not be committing the most grievous crimes. Many of these movements are victims in their own right, and use nonviolence as well, which often goes unnoticed in the West. State abuses of human rights are underreported, especially when compared with the amount of press non-state actors’ violence receives. I think it is easy to forget about the power disparities between even governments we think of in a positive light and the people they govern, or to forget that America too was born of revolution (and terrorism) against the British Crown.

Mixed up somewhere in all of that, stories of suffering from these conflict zones have become almost titillated, like slowing down to look at a car crash on the freeway, and I think they voyeurism of that helps us remove ourselves from those experiences. It’s hard to remember that there are positive things happening in conflict torn places too, that people have babies and get married and fall in love in all but the most extreme situations, and I think that helps construct people who live in those areas as “other”. When people are conceived of as “the other”, “the victim”, or especially “the radical”, their lived experiences in those spaces, and the human quality of each interaction, is sanitized or distorted, and the soul of each person’s story, its humanity, is gone.

Who has had the greatest influence on your research and/or career?
Mary Kaldor. I read her book when I was a Masters student at the London School of Economics and immediately signed up for her class. She ended up being (albeit briefly) a wonderful mentor. I really admired her scholarship, she gave me great feedback on my Master’s thesis, told me to try to publish it, and her belief in my project gave me confidence I hadn’t had before. It doesn’t hurt that she is a truly sweet human being. Afterwards, I switched from studying sustainable ag/development to conflict/political violence and haven’t looked back!

What are the similarities between sculling and political science, if any?
I’m not sure how similar they are, but I think I approach them in almost exactly the same way. I would say I learned the following from being an elite athlete:

  1. How to take big goals and break them down into manageable daily activities
  2. How to find ways around seemingly insurmountable obstacles
  3. How to deal with sometimes scathing criticism, learn from failure, and endure pain/ discomfort
  4. How to hone self-control and self-discipline
  5. The importance of good self-care and recovery habits (!!), and,
  6. Above all, just keep going!

I think almost all of that applies to getting a PhD or to writing an article/book.

Do you have a favorite writing resource or process to keep you motivated?
Having a writing schedule. Working out before starting!  Keeping work out of my personal life and personal time (don’t work in bed, don’t work in designated “relax”/social times). Making sure to take breaks (even just to stand up and walk around) every 45/hour or so.

What would you tell undergraduate students considering a career in political science?
Sky’s the limit! Political science is the study of why people do what they do, basically. That means you have a lot of freedom to study whatever it is that makes you tick. I think the whole area is fascinating, but if you aren’t into research and writing than might not want to make it a career!

What are the top three things on your bucket list?

What book are you currently reading for leisure? Are you enjoying it?
Ghost Fleet – Sci-fi by a political scientist! It’s great. 🙂

This post is part of a series of interviews with our members. Read more MPSA Member profiles.

MPSA - Emily Kalah Gade